In the last month, the Department of Education and President Obama have released two important proposals affecting higher education. The first, released by the department last month, was for the long-awaited college ratings plan that the president had first proposed 16 months earlier. This plan would evaluate over 6,000 colleges that participate in the government’s Title IV federal student aid grant and loan programs.
President Obama’s more recent policy idea was one he offered up January 9 in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he suggested that the first two years of community college be offered for free to all students in the country. Under the president’s plan, the costs would be covered through a federal-state partnership, where the federal government would pick up 75 percent of the tuition and participating states the remaining 25 percent.
Student loans continue to be a popular topic in the media, with most of the stories (at least upon a quick glance) focusing on how terrible the growing volume of student loans is. A Google news search on one day for the phrase “student loan debt” turned up the following headlines among the top results:
Student debt threatens the safety net for elderly Americans
Student loan and mortgage loan debt: A public health crisis
Student loan debt and the homeownership dream
Student loan debt is weighing college graduates down
The White House yesterday announced a new series of proposals to force colleges and universities to do a better job to prevent sexual assaults on campuses, and to do more to support the victims of assaults when they do occur. The proposals came from a high-level task force the president created in January (it contained three cabinet secretaries) to address an issue that has received intense scrutiny both on college campuses, as well as in the media, in the last year or so.
A key finding of the task force, as reported in The New York Times, is that, “one in five female college students has been assaulted, but that just 12 percent of such attacks are reported.” As a father with one daughter in college, and a second heading there in the future, these numbers are disturbing. It is clear that we in higher education need to heed the call for reform.
Last spring, I posted about the challenge of calculating a return on investment (ROI) for individual colleges. The problem is with obtaining accurate data on the earnings of the graduates of a given college or university. I described there the problem with a ROI website created by the firm PayScale, which relies on self-reported data from individuals. There are a number of issues with PayScale’s methodology, but the biggest is that there is just no way to know how representative the respondents to their surveys are of the totality of the graduates for any single institution. There is also no way to judge the accuracy of the data reported.
Now there is another report out that uses the PayScale data to calculate ROI measures for community colleges. Last week, a study issued jointly by theNexus Research and Policy Center and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) took on the challenge of calculating the returns to associate’s degrees not just for individuals, but also for taxpayers in the form of the government subsidy provided to community colleges. There are a number of methodological problems with this study, which examined 579 community colleges around the country, but key among them is the study’s reliance on the PayScale data as the outcome measure for the ROI calculations. AIR is also the author of the College Measures website which, as I described in last spring’s post, shares the same flaw in using the PayScale data for some of its analyses.
In one of my posts on President Obama’s college costs proposals, I described how the president is proposing to link eligibility for federal financial aid to the earnings of the graduates of colleges and universities. The general idea is that only those colleges that produce graduates who earn reasonable salaries should benefit from federal financial aid.
Last week I attended the dedication of the new Theatre School building at DePaul University (shown above), where I am a trustee. The building, designed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli, is a beautiful and functional space. The dedication was a wonderful event that included short performances by students in the acting programs at the Theatre School.
In my last post on President Obama’s proposals to help control the growth in college costs, I described how the president hopes to influence institutional behavior. Another key part of his proposals is to try to influence student behavior through the federal financial aid system, known as Title IV aid.
In what is a very brief part of his proposal, but yet may turn out to be one of the most controversial, is this:
Demand Student Responsibility for Academic Performance: To ensure students are making progress toward their degrees, the President will also propose legislation strengthening academic progress requirements of student aid programs, such as requiring students to complete a certain percentage of their classes before receiving continued funding. These changes would encourage students to complete their studies on time, thereby reducing their debt, and will be designed to ensure that disadvantaged students have every opportunity to succeed.
One of my favorite phrases when teaching educational policy is “the devil is in the details” (I once wrote an article that used that phrase as the title – it’s chapter 2 of this report). Politicians and policymakers will often issue grand policy proposals that address issues from an altitude of 35,000 feet, and until the details of the new policy are fleshed out it is difficult to determine what the impact will be at ground level.
This is very much the case with President Obama’s announcement last week of a new set of proposals to address the issue of the rising price of college and how Americans pay for it. As I described in my post last week, the president articulated a series of proposals that are very broad in scope and for the most part will require Congressional action in order to implement them. Thus, it is difficult at this point to determine with any degree of certainty what impact the proposals will have on colleges, universities, and students, but I will do my best to analyze them from the information the White House has provided.
This week President Obama outlined a new series of proposals to help Americans deal with the rising price of college. Addressing college costs has been a priority of the president’s from early on in his first term, but this is probably the most comprehensive set of proposals that have been released at one time. He described them on a two-day, two-state bus tour of college campuses.
There is a lot packaged in the president’s proposals, and in the next couple of blog posts I will provide analysis of some of the key pieces. The proposals fall under three main topics:
Provide incentives for both higher education institutions and students to link financial aid to performance;
Encourage innovation on the part of colleges and universities to come up with new pathways toward less expensive degrees and provide better information to students and parents; and
Make loan debt more manageable for those who borrowed to pay for college.
Earlier this week I testified at a hearing held by the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. The hearing, titled “Keeping College Within Reach: Enhancing Transparency for Students, Families, and Taxpayers,” examined what type of information about colleges is available to students interested in enrolling in postsecondary education, and what can be done to improve the quality of the information.
This is one of a series of hearings being held in both the House and the Senate in preparation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), the primary legislation that outlines the federal government’s role with respect to postsecondary education. The HEA was last reauthorized in 2008, and is due to be reauthorized again this year.
When I co-taught a graduate seminar in educational policy, my colleague and I would often use examples from the news media. We would discuss with our students the frequency with which educational issues are discussed in the news, and why. Education is a topic that is often at the forefront of discussion among the general public as well as policymakers, and because of this, it merits attention from the media.
Even with all this focus I am still struck, however, by the high volume of stories about education you will find in the press. I often start my day at work by looking online at some key media for stories about education. This may include the websites of The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Education Week. On rare occasions, I actually get to read the hard copy of these publications, and yesterday was one of those occasions. I was flying to Boston, so I grabbed The New York Times to take with me on the plane.